Created by infusing the metal with gas, aluminum foam is defining design work large and small. Here’s a designer, a project and a dramatic entrance canopy that use the material to stunning effect.
1 Michael Young
Michelangelo favoured marble. Frank Gehry has a thing for titanium. For British-born product designer Michael Young, it’s all about aluminum foam, a material he first began working with when he moved to Hong Kong, his current base, more than a decade ago. Young eventually started making it in his own facilities, infusing solid aluminum with gas using tooling he developed himself. The upshot has been a product range, from tabletop items to furniture, shown and sold worldwide – and a marriage between medium and maker that, Young has said, “could keep me entertained for the rest of my life.”
2 MY Dynasty Vases
Few of Michael Young’s experiments with aluminum foam have been as striking – or as sinuous – as his latest: a collection of vases for Gallery ALL, the design incubator based in Beijing and L.A. Inspired by Chinese Taoism, the five pieces in his MY Dynasty series – two of which are pictured at left – reflect the five elements of Wu Xing philosophy (water, earth, fire, wood and metal) and are distinguished by their shading (silver, brown, black, blue and red). The colours are achieved by anodizing the foamed aluminum, a tricky process that all but ensures no two tones – or vases – are alike. Their handsomely pocked surfaces are more suggestive of stone than metal.
3 CaixaForum Cultural Centre
Of the additions made by Spanish architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra to Seville’s CaixaForum Cultural Centre, the most dramatic is the building’s new entrance canopy. A big part of the vaulted feature’s wow factor can be attributed to the material he chose for the cladding: stabilized aluminum foam, created by injecting gas into molten aluminum. What results is a porous, versatile substance with a unique pitted look. For the CaixaForum entry, the metal foam was shaped into 12.7-millimetre-thick panels, then screwed to a secondary structure composed of galvanized steel profiles. The raw beauty of the finish makes a powerful first impression.